Sierra Club Urges Rail on Bridge

Sierra Club Urges Rail on Bridge

The new bridge is engineered to accept light or heavy rail.

Will the new dual span Woodrow Wilson Bridge really change much of the area’s gridlock traffic situation when it fully opens in mid 2008? Not unless it has a rail component, according to the Mount Vernon Group Sierra Club.

That was the loud and clear message during a May 11 meeting at George Washington Middle School on Mount Vernon Avenue in Alexandria attended by more than 50 interested citizens. According to the club’s research “adding rail would double the capacity of the bridge.”

That was not disputed by Alex Lee, community relations manager, Potomac Crossing Consultants, Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project. In fact, he declared to the audience “we’re ready” for light or heavy rail.

“We looked at possible rail service since the project began in the 1990’s. The bridge is designed to carry either light or heavy rail. The latter would be Metro,” he said.

“In order to make those design elements the cost of the bridge was increased in the tens of millions of dollars. But, we’re rail ready. And we have a dedicated HOV lane,” Lee said.

The new span will have two express lanes and three local lanes to expedite traffic flow. “Our early research indicated that over 60 percent of bridge traffic is local. But, in order to get rail on the bridge it’s got to be a grassroots effort. It is not up to us,” he insisted.

Since the commencement of the bridge project there have been numerous discussion and forums on establishing a Purple Line between Maryland and Virginia. It’s tie-in point on the Virginia side would be either the present Huntington Station or a new station.

Speaking for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority at the meeting was John Magarelli, senior civil engineer. “We did three studies focusing on heavy and/or light rail or bus,” he said.

“As for rail one study focused on the Huntington Station while the other focused on a new station. On the Maryland side the line would take passengers to Branch Avenue and National Harbor,” Magarelli explained.

“Since the entire project is multi-jurisdictional funding would be shared. We estimate that a Preferred Alternative Study would cost approximately $25 million,” he said.

Overall such a line would involve about 13 miles of rail. It was projected that if the process to put rail on the bridge were to start in 2008 the first trains would not be in services until 2018.

On Thursday, May 18, the south span of the new bridge will officially open to traffic. It will serve both inner and outer loop traffic for two years until the north span is completed, according to Lee.

“We have the third worst traffic congestion in the nation and air pollution goes right along with that,” said Chris Carney, conservation organizer, Mount Vernon Group Sierra Club.

“In the past month we’ve seen two of the highest ridership days in the history of Metro. People want to use mass transit,” he said.